Member profile - Tim Wilms

Looking back over the past bio blurbs of the project, a familiar sentiment expressed is that at some point, many participants wanted to be marine scientists. While many participants took different career paths, we try to feature in our Journal, individuals who became professional marine scientists. In this article, we meet someone who is well on the path to becoming a professional marine scientist, and a strong supporter of citizen science and Australasian Fishes. Tim Wilms (https://www.inaturalist.org/people/tim_wilms) is ranked #15 on the project fish identification leaderboard, with 3,712 identifications for Australasian Fishes. He has conducted over 24,000 identifications for iNat and is still going strong. His story is very inspirational and illustrates the global reach of citizen science.
Tim is a 33-year-old PhD candidate at the Technical University of Denmark. He originally come from the Netherlands and lives in Denmark with his wife and two children. While for Tim, changing countries for study was an easy transition, the weather in Denmark is equally as bad as the weather in Holland, his wife is from Manado in Indonesia. Northern Europe climate requires is taking time to adjust, not to mention the issues surrounding COVID.
Like many stories of international travel for study, Tim’s passion for marine science started with international travel. He says “Although I had always been fascinated by sharks from a young age, my real passion for the ocean started in 2006 after my Dad took my brother and me to the Red Sea in Egypt. After an introduction dive in the hotel pool, we started our PADI open water course and I found myself hooked immediately after taking my first few breaths underwater. The underwater life and colours were absolutely astonishing, and the visibility was unbelievable. Eventually, I even switched my career path entirely, going from studying Econometrics and Operations Research into Earth Science and eventually Marine Science. I have never once regretted that decision until this day and I now consider myself lucky to be working in a field that truly fascinates me.”
His current area of marine research regards marine habitat restoration in the Baltic Sea. From his description it is extremely interesting, and steeped in recent history, illustrating how man alters the natural environment, to the detriment of the marine habitat. It began in the early 20th century in Denmark, with the “stone-fishing industry”. He tells us, “Basically, stone-fishermen were extracting the rocks from the seabed, initially by hand in shallow water but they soon enough started to use more sophisticated technologies such as diving on surface-supplied air and using small cranes to extract the heaviest boulders. The stone-fishermen were selling the rocks to companies involved with the construction of harbors and bridges, and the Baltic Sea rocks were even used for the restoration of buildings in Western Europe after World War II. This activity of stone fishing was prohibited early on in Germany, but not until 2010 in Denmark, meaning that much of the reef habitat here has now been either degraded or completely removed. As such, many Baltic fish species have lost large parts of the habitat they are depending on for food and shelter, and we have seen a steady decline in commercially important fish stocks (such as Atlantic cod) for which habitat loss has undoubtedly been a major contributor (alongside systematic overfishing).”
Tim’s PhD project focuses on rocky reef habitat that is being restored in dedicated parts of Denmark. This is done by purchasing rocks from quarries in Norway and shipping them to Denmark as well as rocks that result from blasting during the construction of tunnels, which are usually shipped and dumped offshore. Reefs are constructed in various configurations to find out what design works best for different marine species. Then the project uses non-invasive sampling techniques that do not damage the habitat or marine species they want to monitor, such as baited underwater cameras and environmental DNA sampling, creating datasets and contributing to better knowledge on how to restore and preserve marine ecosystems.
With this focus on European marine life, how did this Baltic researcher get involved in the Australasian Fishes Project? Tim recalls, “I discovered iNat in late 2017 after I had been identifying fish on the “marine creature identification” page on Facebook. However, I felt that the Facebook page was lacking an overall structure to the observations. iNat, on the other hand, was a very robust tool that saved all observations on a global map together with the date of observation, allowing for a comparison of species seasonal occurrences across oceans. I also realized that, for some marine species, there were very few observations to be found on the general fish database websites whereas iNat often seemed to have at least a handful of observations for those species. I have been hooked to iNat ever since and still try to check out new observations of interest every day.
Another great feature of iNat are the projects, such as the Australasian fishes project, and the way in which they are linked to observations from a particular area. In my case, I came across the Australasian Fishes project because it was linked to many observations I was identifying. I personally have had a strong connection with Australia, ever since I decided to leave on a 2-year working holiday trip Down Under in 2010. My main goal was to get my advanced open water certificate and explore the Great Barrier and Ningaloo Reefs, but of course this all had to be financed somehow. And so, my working trip also brought me to Tully to pick bananas (hell of a job); to Bruce Rock (WA) to drive a tractor seeding wheat and barley; and to Kojonup to work as a shepherd for 3 months (which may just be the best job on this planet). I particularly enjoyed living in these remote outback villages and being able to disappear off the grid for a while, something we are just never able to experience here in Western Europe.”
In a way, Tim is paying back his debt to Australia for his experiences here and having Australasian Fishes support from someone in Northern Europe is one of the truly amazing aspects of our project. It is clear he is also a big fan and supporter of citizen science. In Denmark, he often works with local fishermen who kindly boat him around to different sampling locations. The fishermen have a huge amount of knowledge on local fish populations and are genuinely excited and curious about the research. Tim tells us, “In one of our fish tracking projects, the fishermen even contribute to the data collection process by bringing along manual receiver devices on their fishing trips to search for underwater signals from tagged fish. Every time a tagged fish is detected by the fishermen, a new data point with time and location of the fish is added to our database which improves our statistical power on which we base our conclusions. In a way, this is comparable to the contribution of citizen science to iNat. Every time an observation is added and assigned to “research grade” with help of the iNat community, we are adding a data point in space and time for that particular species. Many of my colleagues utilize fish distribution maps (e.g., AquaMaps from FishBase) for their publications, and by adding more and more observations here to iNat we are in effect creating similar species distribution maps of high resolution in particular for coastal areas (within range of our SCUBA and snorkeling community of course). Perhaps at some stage, large-scale marine observations (e.g., offshore fisheries data) can be effectively combined with fine-scaled data (e.g., from iNat) to create distribution maps of high resolution across the globe. I can definitely see these types of maps being increasingly used by the scientific community in the near future, especially to detect marine invasions or track shifting species distributions due to global warming. Without a doubt, every data point counts!”
I am sure many of us know about the challenges of being a PhD student, and how much of a personal struggle it can be. I came across many stereotypical, “starving” PhD candidates during my career in the university sector. Tim is fortunate where he has found a venue supportive of his work and family. He says, “I would say that Denmark is probably one of the better countries in Europe (or even globally) to be conducting a PhD in the natural sciences. In contrast to other countries (such as the U.K. for example), PhD candidates in Denmark are considered employees, not students and therefore receive a decent salary instead of monthly stipends. Another thing I found very appealing when entering Denmark was the way in which they treated my family situation with a wife and stepdaughter coming from Indonesia. I was told from day one that employees in Denmark should feel comfortable and be able to focus on their jobs without stress about their family situation, meaning that my wife was granted a residence permit right away and could start looking for a job as well. This would not have been possible in countries that do not consider PhD candidates to be employees.”
As he is brimming with optimism and support for our project, I ask Tim what he thinks the future holds for him and his work. He notes, “I’m expecting to finish the PhD by the end of next year. After that, I am hoping to continue some of the conservation and restoration work we are currently involved in, possibly through a postdoctoral position at the university. We have just received news last week that we have been granted funding to construct and study a “barrier reef” along a part of the Danish coastline that is experiencing a high degree of coastal erosion. The idea is that our future barrier reef will function as coastal protection by attenuating wave energy, while at the same time enhancing marine biodiversity locally and serving as a case study for similar future efforts. So, at the moment things are looking promising in terms of future work, but you just never really know in this competitive world of academia. In case things do not work out at the university in the end, I could certainly see myself filling some sort of consultancy role either within a governmental agency or at an NGO. In any case, I will always be looking to somehow contribute to our global effort of preserving the ocean for future generations and safeguarding the astonishing marine biodiversity it harbors against anthropogenic stressors.”
We are very grateful to our global supporters and take inspiration from the professional marine science community, who remind us of how important the project has been and will continue to be in the future. Who knows, one day we may be visiting the Great Rock Barrier Reef of Denmark.
This journal post was written by Australasian Fishes member, Harry Rosenthal.
Anotado por markmcg markmcg, 30 de enero de 2021 a las 03:46 AM

Comentarios

Many thanks @harryrosenthal for your time and effort in writing the piece, and to @markmcg for featuring my story - it's much appreciated!

Anotado por tim_wilms hace 9 meses (Advertencia)

My pleasure Tim. Thanks for your support of our project and good luck with your research.

Anotado por harryrosenthal hace 9 meses (Advertencia)

Very interesting article. Good luck, Tim, with your studies and work on the Great Rock Barrier Reef of Denmark.

Anotado por amfstocker hace 9 meses (Advertencia)

Given the impact that man has had on the marine environment, we need to clone Tim many times over and distribute around the world. (Also thank you Tim for your many identifications to my observations)

Anotado por fiftygrit hace 9 meses (Advertencia)

Very interesting and informative article - always nice to learn more about the fellow iNaturalists that you often come across as posters and identifiers. I really appreciate the help from Tim with identification of so many tricky observations. Good luck with finishing your PhD Tim - and many thanks for restoring the marine environment of my old home country - Mange tak!

Anotado por jenssommer01 hace 9 meses (Advertencia)

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